Looking for a meal plan? Why you really don’t want a “meal plan.”

One of the main parts of my job is helping people know what to eat. Makes sense, right? I am a dietitian/nutritionist after all.  Many people come to me, not surprisingly, and ask me for a meal plan. It is a question I get weekly. People want structure, specifics, the basics. Many also say, “I don’t want to think.”  They want something laid out for them that’s easy, works with their lifestyle, and helps achieve their goals. Strangely enough, and to the disappointment of many (at first), I don’t dole out meal plans. Why is this? Isn’t that my job?

Well, sort of. But simply following a plan on paper doesn’t achieve much, particularly for the long term. Have you followed a pre-made meal plan before, whether from a book or maybe online? Most of the time it starts out successful but when it comes time to transition back into real life, the majority fall back into old habits. There was never the adoption and learning how to replicate the same type of eating apart from the “plan.” And….often the plan was actually too restrictive in the first place (hence they often produce quick but temporary results). It was never meant to be sustainable which therein lies the problem.

Also, there is no one “right” plan for everyone. When someone asks me for a meal plan, I don’t think they understand the hours of work it would take to create a personalized menu, catering to that person’s likes and dislikes, specific medical conditions or health goals, and within that person’s calorie and macro targets.

Once I explain that, and the cost involved to create that detailed of a plan, (and yes, I have had people pay me hundreds of dollars for such services) most people get it and quickly realize why I am not throwing around meal plans left and right. If that is truly what you are looking for, thankfully we now have a number of wonderful online services that will do that hard work for you and save you a lot of time and money. I will list a few below.

You see, my primary role is as an educator. My goal is to teach you the principles of healthy eating, specifically related to your health condition and health goals, and then guide you towards your own meal planning. My job is not to do the work for you. In fact, the most successful are those that put in the work themselves. I am here to guide, advise, motivate and redirect.

Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t do meal planning in client sessions. Certainly, I do, but we do it TOGETHER. I often provide the basic framework (macro targets, particular food choices, calorie goals, if needed, and even meal timing advice) and then, with input from the client, we come up with ideas to get the ball rolling. I then hand off control and let the client personalize it to their taste. Seems more reasonable than a generic one-off diet plan, doesn’t it?

Sorry if this bursts your bubble about dietitians and meal plans. Certainly, there are those that do give out generic menus, but just remember to consider if these fit “you.” Do you like the foods included? Is the plan realistic and sustainable or is it overly restrictive? Is it suitable for your health needs? Does it include foods you can acquire locally and prepare relatively easily within your budget?

Lastly, when deciding if finding a meal plan is right for you, ask yourself if you are actually ready. Are you are trying to take the thinking out of health and diet? If so, I challenge you to change that viewpoint. If you are looking to make serious and lasting change, the mentality of “not thinking about it” is not going to get you there. You wouldn’t do that at your job, would you?

It’s the same with your health. YOU have to take the most active role. Of course, seek advice and help, but remember you play the central role in this process. Only then will meal planning and any other tools you use for creating a healthier diet make a lasting impact!

Chinese Proverb: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. 

Check out these awesome online meal planning services that might help make your day-to-day planning a whole lot easier!



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About Danielle VenHuizen

Registered Dietitian, Certified LEAP Therapist